Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Burning Man 2008: The Captain prepares for an experience in Experimental Society and flammable art.

By Captain Tuesday

Every year, at the end of August, a growing group of like-minded people gather in one of the most inhospitable environments in the US. During their time there, they create a fully staffed, functional city, complete with a department of public works, a DMV, a post office, radio station, newspaper, and even 2 hospitals of sorts, all in the middle of the Black Rock Desert, Nevada. During the 7 days of its existence, the population increases to become one of the largest cities in Nevada. In 3 months time, the city will be gone, and there will be no sign that anyone was ever there.

People come from all around the world to participate in this event. I say participate, because one of the rules/mottos/philosophies is “no spectators”. You are expected to be involved. Some of the other city ordinances include Radical Self-reliance, and Radical Self-expression. If you need something, you can’t just go buy it. In fact, money is prohibited, mostly. If you need something, and you find somebody who has it, offer a trade. If you have something someone else needs, offer a trade, or you can just gift it to them. You can trade just about anything for just about anything else. Need some new clothes, or a costume for the evening, there is a camp for that. Need some glow sticks or flashlights to find your way at night, there is a camp for that too. One of the more unique concepts to be found at burning man, is the Yellow Bike service. It’s a taxi service of sorts, except it’s a bike, and you drive yourself. If you see a yellow bike, which is actually bright neon green, you may take it, free of charge, to use as transportation around the 5-mile diameter city. If you stop for awhile and someone else takes it, oh well. That’s the whole idea. The only thing you are allowed to exchange money for, is ice at Camp Arctica, and coffee at the Center Camp CafĂ©. All of the proceeds from those sales are donated to the local communities to maintain the roads for the approximately 50,000 people to participate every year.

One of the other reasons Burning Man is an experimental community, is due to the “Leave No Trace” and “Pack it In, Pack it Out” philosophies. Everything needed for the entire event must be brought with you. Food, water, shelter, etc. all has to be planned for. Everything you bring, must be brought back. There are no trash cans, there are no garbage trucks. The only thing provide for the participants are portable restrooms. This is where the Radical Self-reliance comes in. To further emphasize this concept, tickets will no longer be sold at the gate. You must purchase your ticket in advance. This cuts down on the people who just go on a whim, and have to leech off the rest of us because they failed to plan properly. And let’s not get started on the subject of hydration. Ill keep it short: 120 degree weather, extremely low humidity, high desert environment with frequent dust and wind storms that can exceed 70mph; it’s a lesson in survival.

Now, on to the subject of Radical Self-expression. Art. Lots of art. More art than you will ever have time to look at. More art than you would ever be able to identify as art. Everything from a wooden bench in the middle of nowhere with the words “Don’t sit on the playa” painted on it, to a large scale wooden structure participants dubbed “The Belgian Waffle”, which was erected for the sole purpose of burning it down at the end of last years event. The most noticeable art installation every year is The Man himself. In the very center of the circular city, stands an 80 foot tall wooden statue of a man, laced with neon lights. The Man always stands atop a structure of some kind, filled with various pieces of art relating to the years theme. During the week, his arms are by his side. At the end of the week, they take him down, fill him with fireworks, put him back up, and raise his arms above his head, and then light him on fire, hence why the event is called Burning Man.

Now, keep in mind that it is impossible to be told what Burning Man is like unless you have actually been. Its like trying to describe the color red to a blind person, it’s just not going to work very well, and you will get some very strange looks from people. But as I prepare for this year’s event, along with author PT Rothschild and Matt Pierce a.k.a. Colonel Mongoose, I will take note of plans and preparations and keep you informed. Upon my return, I will try, probably poorly, to tell you of my experiences there. In the mean time, the shopping lists await.